Earlier update than usual, I'm on a roll! This is a long chapter, but I am quite happy with it. I wanted to thank last weeks episode of the Walking Dead 'Still' for that! It was so inspiring. And I have to say everything that happened in that episode is working perfectly for what I have planned for this story when it reaches Season 4. I know, I know, I haven't even reached Season 3 yet, but it's getting there. I always like to think long term. We're very close to Season 3 though guys, 2 more chapters minimum and they're gonna be heavy set with what I got planned. I hope it'll be good enough!
Anyway, of course, I'd like to thank you new followers and favourites. And of course you gracious people that take time to review. Don't shy away with critcism and suggestions. I've very opened minded and will hear you out. Anything to make this story improve. As such, I did some extra research on weapons and I found out the Glock 17 doesn't actually have a manual safety latch. So, I'm an idiot and realized my mistake about that. I go by my experience, but I never fired a Glock so I kinda just assumed. Now I know! Right, I always ramble too much, so enjoy this crazy chapter.
Playlist for this chap:
Dance on our Graves by Paper Route
Not Giving In by Rudimental
Save Me by Royal Bliss
Safe & Sound by Taylor Swift Ft. The Civil Wars
I take no credit for characters with an exception to my OC's.
Daryl inhaled, thick and dry dust filling his nostrils. He hacked and choked on the tainted oxygen, each violent impulsive cough shooting pain throughout his whole body.
"Shit," Daryl wheezed.
He opened his eyes, his lids narrowing into the unclear air. The action made the skin of his face sting and he cringed. Light was what he saw, framed in a giant hole above him. What the hell happened? Why the hell was he on the floor? Why did it hurt to move? Remembering took a lot more effort than Daryl had liked.
He remembered arguing with Elena, remembered being mad at her. He remembered her walking away from him and he remembered chasing after her into a cabin because…
Daryl opened his eyes again, just realizing now that he was beginning to drift off. His whole body ached and all he wanted to do was have sleep make it go away.
Straightening his spine, Daryl sucked in a breath and clenched his teeth tight. The pain felt like a gravity of weight on top of him, pushing him down with gradual force. Giving up momentarily, he decided to try for something easier and see whether he could move his limbs. His boot covered feet kicked at the broken planks of wood, lifting more dust in the air and Daryl involuntarily coughed again.
"Sonofabitch," he muttered at the pain and threw his right arm over his stomach, holding himself to control the movement that each cough shook his body. Daryl lifted his left hand to wipe the dust that had crept into his eyes.
Daryl furrowed his brow. Something wasn't right. The slight movement of his left tricep welcomed spasms of pain that shot through his entire arm. Daryl groaned, unable to hold back his voice and he tightened his eyes shut. He immediately ceased anymore mobility, letting his arm lay limply away from his body. The painful throbbing in his arm didn't stop but Daryl at least could tolerate it when it was like this.
Hell, ain't ya jus' like a glass doll all broken up. Ya gonna cry, Darlina?
When he heard Merle's voice, Daryl didn't even put up the strength to tell him to shut the hell up. He was so sick of hearing his older brother's voice in his head, like hell he was going to humor him. Maybe then disembodied Merle will go away. Last he needed was him mentally throwing his ass around and screwing with his head. He knew his voice was just a figment of his imagination, a part of his subconscious that was testing him when he felt any small hint of vulnerability. He didn't need Merle reminding him he was a piece of shit.
Hear that? I think yer senorita is callin' ya. Go 'head li'l brother, crawl back to her like some pussy whipped dog.
Daryl furrowed his brow. He didn't hear anything. Maybe he was imagining things. Bringing his fingers to his head, his skin skimmed over the scar near his temple where Andrea had accidently shot him. He ran his fingers through his damp, sweaty hair and felt the touch of something sticky. He brought into his view and examined the red on his fingertips.
The sound of footsteps then pulled him out of his reverie. Daryl's heartbeat began to race and he twisted his head around. Shit, where the hell was his crossbow? He kicked his feet against the planks, hoping to hear the clank of metal under his boot. The footsteps were getting louder, followed by a loud banging. The chemical of adrenaline was pumping through his veins now, working like morphine as he pushed his body to twist and turn to get a better look at the plain he had fallen into.
He could see now that he was in a cellar, could see a table and the wall mount that tools would be hung in the corner. Daryl almost laughed. This piece of shit shelter was a hunting cabin after all.
A whine and loud thud of wood had him turning his head to the right and he could see light pouring in, illuminating the small staircase that led outside. A silhouette of boots stepped down the first step and Daryl abandoned the search for his crossbow. He leaned forward, relief settling in when he found his knife still sheathed against his belt. He pulled it out, tight in his grip, blade facing down. Then he waited.
The figure lowered down the next step.
Daryl could do this. He'd taken down two walkers after falling down a cliff and with a bolt penetrated through his side. One useless arm and a sore body couldn't stop him from executing one dead bastard.
It was like instinct took over, the impulse of her movements driving her forward before her brain knew to what degree the fear and the unknown had influenced her body. Seeing Daryl the way that he was, silent, immobile and vulnerable was not an image that didn't just leave her even when she had turned around to gather her bearings and to think. But her mind had been working a mile a minute, projecting that image in her minds-eye and forcing her to become less intelligible.
Clearing her head had been a task far difficult than Elena ever had to endure. Her head felt hot and heavy with anxiety. She couldn't call for help, she couldn't run back to the others to tell Rick what happened and leave Daryl like this.
Think, think, think, Elena had told herself, and finally she had some clarity.
There was another floor of the hunting cabin beneath her. A basement maybe? Elena looked around. The enclosure of the cabin was plain and empty. No doors, no others rooms. No stairs. Elena sat on her hands and knees, griping the edge of the big hole that engulfed the floor. Then it clicked. A cellar, it had to be a cellar.
Elena shifted backward from the gaping hole, thoughtful of the creaks and whines the floorboards made under her weight. She crawled to the edge of the room and used the wall as leverage as she rose to her feet. She kept her back curved and her knees slightly bent to avoid straightened her entire weight above her heels. Each step she took toward the exit felt longer in comparison, the opened door pulling away from her mockingly. Her breaths were coming in and out consistently and shaking, hitching every time the floor whined louder with strain underneath her weight. Elena kept herself close to the wall.
She jumped forward as soon as she was a few paces away from the outside, stumbling through the door and back into the opening of the forest. Elena snapped her neck around with wide eyes, unsure whether the stairs would be on the left side of the cabin or the right. Going with her gut feeling, she sprinted around to the left side of the wooden shelter.
Now that she looked further at the structure of the building, she saw the warnings of cracks, holes and rotted wood. She felt her heart plummet to her stomach. She should have known. Why did she have to be so stubborn and check this place out? Being angry at Daryl was no excuse for making moronic decisions. He knew the shelter wasn't safe and he had jumped at the chance to pull her out of there. This was her fault. Daryl was laying six feet under because of her.
"How could I be so stupid?" Elena whispered under her breath. She could hear the tears in her own voice.
Taking a deep breath, she decided there was plenty of time to blame herself afterwards. Right now she needed to find the stairs that led to the cellar.
Elena kicked the toe of her boot against the piles of leaves and swatting her crowbar to feel for anything hard underneath. When the metal of her weapon bounced back at her, Elena almost smiled with relief, the heaviness of her shoulders lightening only a fraction.
Getting on her knees, she frantically threw the wet pile of leaves away from the concealed door and immediately she clenched the handles and pulled the doors open. But they didn't budge.
She exhaled an exasperated breath and tugged at the rusted chains that cinched the doors shut. Throwing the chains down and grabbing her crowbar from her side, Elena began batting metal against metal. Every hit was harder than the last, built up frustration and anger making every swing heavier and lethal.
"C'mon!" she said aloud, but the corroded chains would not give out.
Hooking the curved end of the crowbar around the chain, Elena pulled as much as her strength would allow, her right booted foot firmly against the doors to strengthen the haul. Frustrated tears began to well up the corners of her eyes as she pulled, her bottom lip sore and swelling from her top teeth biting down.
"C'mon you stupid piece of shit!"
A cracking sound resonated and Elena's foot slipped, her crowbar no longer held down by the support of the chains. One handle of the doors sprung free, the screws popping out of the wood. She was thrown down immediately on her back from the loss of constraint, her spine cushioned from the backpack on her shoulders. Elena grunted and swatted the wood splinters that had gotten on her clothes. She picked up her crowbar and scrambled back on her feet, reaching and throwing open the broken cellar door.
The light from the sun behind her illuminated the set of stairs that led inside. Hesitantly, Elena took the first step, her toes feelings for the firmness of the wood. Silently, she prayed that the stairs were at least one part of this shelter that was still strong enough for its use.
Elena narrowed her eyes into the darkness of the cellar. There was little she could see, the only other light source coming from the hole above that Daryl had fallen into. She could see the broken planks and floorboards, but not much.
Swallowing, Elena lowered to the next step. "Daryl?" she called out.
Elena carefully stepped further down the staircase, her arms held out away from her body to balance herself in case its stairs gave out on her also. She spotted him then, lying against the timber, his head turned to her direction. She skipped the last step and jumped down to the dirt crusted floor and sprinted toward him, nearly tripping over a few snapped planks in her way.
"Oh thank God," she sighed, respite in her voice. She held his gaze with glossy eyes, the wrinkle of worry between her eyebrows deepening.
Daryl exhaled a breath of relief and lowered his knife when he recognized her voice. Elena knelt beside him, pulling away the broken pieces of wood that still leaned against his body and taking special care in brushing off the dust and splinters on his clothes. Daryl winced at the touch and she froze, lifting her eyes back to his face. Her left hand reached for his cheek and Daryl felt a dull sting when her fingertips caressed a gash on his skin, but somehow her touch felt comforting.
Elena inhaled a shaky breath and covered her mouth with the palm of her hand. "I'm so sorry," she apologized, her voice muffled.
Daryl attempted to sit himself up, and groaned at the strain it caused. His arm throbbed and he held it tightly to suppress anymore movement.
"Is it broken?" Elena asked quickly, her hand holding his back.
"Naw," he managed to say. He inhaled through gritting teeth. "Dislocated."
"Shit," she gasped. "What can I do?"
"Pop it back in."
She began shaking her head. "I can't."
"No," she refused, shaking her head again. "I don't want to hurt you."
The concern in her eyes held together with the tears that Daryl could hear so distinctly in her voice. Any anger and any contempt she had felt moments ago was gone. Now she gazed at him, looking troubled about what to do here. Daryl would have saved her the grief of popping his shoulder in himself; it hadn't been the first time he had to. However, every muscle in his body felt labored and he didn't know if he could put himself through more excruciating pain. Not alone anyway.
Elena stared at him, conflicted with her options. Daryl looked haggard, his face bleeding from the small cuts across his face and his shoulders hunched, one looking odd in comparison to the other. She knew he was restraining the pain it was causing him. Daryl's voice was huskier and abrupt like he was fighting the release of a groan in agony. She'd never seen him this way, never seen him so depleted of energy that he could barely move on his own. And she knew that leaving his shoulder dislocated like that was going to do him more harm. It was a long walk to carry him to Hershel and she'd never leave him alone to fetch for the doc herself.
Inhaling deeply, Elena wiped at her eyes and sniffed back the grief.
"Tell me what to do."
Daryl let go of his arm and tried to stretch it. Elena saw his spine tense up at the movement. He was breathing sharp breaths through his nose and keeping his jaw clenched shut. Shifting to his left side, Elena followed his lead and supported his arm.
"Gotta…stretch it an' force it in."
She nodded her head and allowed him to move his arm slightly. She then helped with position his arm away from his side. Elena lifted her eyes to analyze his face. Daryl had his head thrown back and his eyes closed. She could see the smallest twitch of the muscle in his jaw as she continued to stretch his arm and push the shoulder in the direction of the socket.
"I'm sorry," she replied quickly.
He didn't seem to acknowledge her apology. Daryl had his eyes opened now, focusing his sight toward the ceiling. She applied force again, hoping to God she was doing this right. Daryl groaned under his breath and lowered his chin to his chest. He didn't move any further and Elena forced harder.
Daryl involuntarily cried a struggled whimper. The moment she heard an unsettling crack and Daryl blew out a long breath that sounded like relief, Elena immediately let go. He was panting, turning his head to look over his shoulder.
"Can you move it?" she asked him.
"It's fine," he answered automatically and held the arm against his side.
When Daryl began to rise, Elena jumped quickly on her feet. He struggled to straighten his knees and wavered for a few short seconds before giving up and sitting back down. He tightened his eyes shut again.
Elena bent back beside him and watched as he held his head in his hand. Hesitantly, Elena ran her fingers through his damp, dark hair. The touch was to comfort him, as much as it was to comfort herself. He was here beside her at his lowest point and still fighting to be the strong one. And that's all he has been. In their relationship, Daryl had always been the strong one, despite every hurdle that landed on their laps. She wondered if he forgot that he was still only human.
"You need to slow down," she told him. "You might have a concussion."
Daryl lifted his head from his hand and met her eyes. It was the first time in a long time that Elena saw true honesty in his eyes. There was no attempt at acting tough, no need to act like he was fine. He wasn't and she could see it clearly. When Daryl looked away, he pulled his head away from her touch. He didn't like this, Elena decided, looking and feeling as vulnerable as he did. To her least of all.
Elena frowned but stood on her feet. She kicked aside the broken pieces of wood, bending and sitting on her heels when she spotted what she was looking for.
"Whatcha doin'?" she heard Daryl ask at her back.
Pulling the last piece of wood away, Elena pulled at the shoulder strap of Daryl's crossbow left abandoned on the floor. She'd forgotten how heavy the silent firearm was, struggling with the grip until she used her other hand to shrug the weapon over her right shoulder.
With a sigh, she answered him. "I'm gonna get us out of here."
She faced him then, lending out her hand for his. Daryl stared at it for a long time. He lowered his eyes and attempted to push himself onto his feet. The struggle was very much there and Elena waited patiently, refusing to run in and help. If he wanted it, he'd ask. Elena was done assuming.
Then with a grunt, Daryl slapped his hand into hers, relenting to his injuries. Elena curled under his arm and wrapped hers around his waist. With a heave, she hoisted him up to his heels. Daryl leaned against her for a moment, his weight making her knees buckle slightly.
"Can you walk?"
He scoffed light heartedly. "Yeah. Don' think ya got the muscles to carry me 'round anyhow."
Elena attempted the first step forward before replying. "I carried Toni to you guys when we first met, remember that? And he was taller and almost twice your size."
"You showin' off?"
"Just trying to prove a point."
Daryl said nothing. He did his best to lean his own weight on his heels, but her support was much appreciated as little as he did to openly acknowledge it. His whole body was on fire and his arm was throbbing like an open sore. It took everything within himself to hold back any indication that he was hurting in front of her, even though each step vibrated through his body like a pinball bouncing off every wound. The fall hadn't been that high, but the way he landed made up for the altitude. He could feel the bruises where planks dug into his back, could feel the sting of lacerations across his his skin. But worst of all, he could feel the pulsing pain in the back of his head that pounded every few seconds. He was dizzy and having trouble focusing his vision ahead. A ringing in his ears was replacing the silence, feeling like white noise in the background as they walked toward the exit of the cellar.
"One step at a time, okay?" Elena whispered to him. It was more a suggestion than an order, he realized. She wasn't treating him like he was fragile. She was being considerate, understanding his limitations and letting him decide how far he thought he could push himself.
The sudden change of heart made him turn his head and look at her, really look at her. He studied her side profile, the determination in her furrowed brows and the tightness of her jaw. Tresses of her hair had loosened from the tight braid that went down her neck, sticking to the sweat and dirt on the suntanned colour of her shiny skin. Her hazel eyes were concentrated forward, turning into a shimmering gold as soon as the light hit her face.
Elena helped him up the last step and Daryl ducked his head out of the doorway. He narrowed his eyes into slits, the sunlight suddenly feeling too intense for his vision. Momentarily blind, Daryl allowed Elena to guide him back outside and steady on his feet.
His body suddenly tensed, and for a second he thought he might have straightened his back the wrong way, pulling a bruised, labored muscle. But then his nostrils flared, catching the scent of something amiss. The fog in his head disappeared long enough to make him feel oddly claustrophobic even though they'd already left the cellar. His senses heightened with alarm, and then he heard it, loud over the ringing in his ears.
Daryl pushed himself off of Elena, just as soon as he cocked his head to his left. A large dark figure came at his side, growling a deathly roar with a breath that was vile. Daryl grabbed the wet, blood stained collar of the man that stood a few inches taller than him, dead, ashen eyes glaring at him with famine. The corpse snapped at the air, black bile projecting from its dark teeth that were chipped in angles looking like fangs of a wild dog. The walker reached forward, curling his fingers into the back of Daryl's hair, making his head pound louder as it forced him closer. Daryl tried to shove him back but the walker was applying his entire weight and before he knew it, the world around him began to tip.
His back bounced off the hard ground with a thud, his sores immediately reacting to the harsh impact. A throaty whine escaped passed his gritting teeth. The walker fought against the grip around its neck, angling its head to bite his wrist. All Daryl could do was hold him at bay, all his strength burning through his right arm. He knew it was a bad idea as soon as he attempted to move his left arm for assistance, the pain shooting up like an electrical current through his limb. The pain had his force falter and immediately the walker used it to its benefit. It pushed forward, inches away from Daryl's face, clawing at the collar of Daryl's denim long sleeved shirt. He heard a few of the buttons snap from the pressure.
Then all he saw was a blur, his grip slipping from the walker's shirt and the weight of it violently pulled off of him. Daryl twisted his neck to the side as Elena rolled with the corpse through the dirt and leaves, her fingers clawed into the fabric of the walker's ripped sweater. The speed of her tackle had them tumbling a distance until their bodies hit the side of the cabin. The walker took the opportunity to reach for her then when she landed on her side, his jaw gaping wide.
Daryl forced himself up, blowing a frustrated breath when the dizziness had him drop back on his knees. Her name was at the tip of his tongue as his heart began to thump wildly against his chest. He wanted to look away, wanted to avoid seeing what was about to happen next. He knew the sight would haunt him forever, the dread already beginning to darken his senses. It was punishment, he accepted, for letting his severe injuries control his inability to do what he'd promised. That he would always protect her.
A female cry rung through his ears and Daryl watched in awe.
Elena pushed her knees against the dead man's torso and straddled him when she pushed him on his back. Then her right arm was swinging, over and over again, dark blood spurting every time her fist came down. Daryl could hear the sickly sound of penetration, the ripping of tissue at every stab. Elena only stopped when her gutting switchblade missed the target, shredding through the cheek of the walker and pierced into the ground. She let go and leaned forward, the corpse's face disfigured with multiple lacerations through the tissue and bones of its skull. He saw her body heave as she panted, her arms trembling underneath her.
He was aware how wrong it was to think the way he did, to watch her in her state of emotional undress while she caught her breath and tried to grab her bearings. But witnessing the power that she'd demonstrated, neither letting fear have her try to escape nor crying for Daryl's help, had him turned on like no other.
The arousal hit him like a set of bricks when she finally stood up, walker blood staining her hoodie and the skin on her face. Her cheeks were flushed while her dark eyes stared down her kill. She looked feral, and there was something about that that Daryl liked.
Finally, Elena bent down and grasped the hilt of her bloody knife and pulled it out of the dirt. Her eyes met his then, the darkness fleeting and replaced with the warmth of concern that was familiar.
Daryl tried to stand up again and he could hear Elena step forward while he clenched his injured arm and pushed himself off the ground. The tussle of leaves had them frozen then, both their attentions snapping to the corner of the cabin. Then he heard it, the moans and hisses of death.
Elena rushed to him and Daryl wavered on his step, but nonetheless kept his heels firmly on the ground.
"We gotta go."
Daryl retracted a step when she reached for him. "No."
"What?" Elena asked, her voice breathless.
He shook his head at her. "I'mma slow ya down." The moans of the undead grew louder. "Go. Get outta 'ere!"
Letting go of his arm, Daryl lowered himself to pick up his crossbow from the grip. Elena caught his wrist and he lifted his eyes to hers.
"I'm not leaving you here."
"We ain't got time—"
"Which is why we got to go now!"
Elena stared at him definitively, her eyes big and her brows pulled together with conviction.
Slowly the walkers rounded the corner, their glossy white eyes honing in on the two of them like infrared, Daryl and Elena's body temperatures perking the undead's senses and driving them forward in the quickest pace their drunken stupor would allow. Four appeared in view then two others followed after. More would be coming, Daryl thought.
Elena picked up her crowbar tight in her fists, her legs spread and firmly on the ground. She molded herself into a stance in front of him, shifting her glare to each corpse that advanced, ready to attack at any given moment.
Had Daryl not been in the state that he was in killing six walkers wouldn't be a difficult task to initiate. For either of them. He and Elena had taken on more at a time. He had no doubt that the woman in front of him could take them down, one by one, but there was little that Daryl could do to help. Pushing passed his limitations and straining his body more was stupid. Elena wasn't going to leave his side, and he wasn't fool enough to worsen his condition and make himself more of a burden for her. There was only one option here.
With his uninjured arm, he managed to slip the shoulder strap of his crossbow over his head—it was one less weight she had to carry. Then he curled his fingers around her upper arm. She turned her eyes to him.
"Elena, we gotta run," he said to her.
She nodded her head in understanding and briefly looked back at the threat that progressed further toward them. As soon as they turned around, neither of them looked back and together they ran side by side, more walkers materializing behind trees nearby the cabin.
Rick readjusted the strap of the duffel on his shoulder, the weight of it little and easy to manage. That wasn't necessarily a good thing. They had scoured through the gas station and the pub and found little to nothing of worth. Mostly old chocolate bars and bags of stale chips, which didn't rank high in nutritional value. Glenn had sported several packages of peanuts from the bar, along with an opened package of canned coke left in the storage room. Although not water, Rick figured that the caffeine would do them some good, the sugar would keep them awake and alarmed when they needed to be. It was a poor replacement for coffee, but it was the best they could do.
Carl walked alongside him, tipping his hat to block his eyes away from the glare of the sun. Rick placed his hand on his son's shoulder and squeezed. He looked up at his father a little confused then smiled in understanding of the gesture. Carl continued to walk ahead, his Beretta equipped with the severed baseball bat suppressor swinging by his side.
They had encountered several walkers, more so in Lloyd's Bar than the independent service station across the street. All that had been left were corpses of civilians that may or may not have died there. Rick suspected they were roamers that had wandered through the opened door, alerted by the scurrying of rats that had crawled inside in search for abandoned food. He'd discovered carcasses of the half eaten rodents in the corners of the building, fur and their entrails stuck in the teeth of the lurkers nearby. Carl had taken down a couple, each with a bullet straight between their cadaverous eyes and he didn't blink nor hesitate doing so. He showed no fear whatsoever.
Rick had been stunned and astonished—not that he had killed two walkers, he'd always known his son was a natural good shot. He'd been stunned by the lack of recovery Carl had shown. His child had popped the dead couple in the head, already going about his business without a second thought before they hit the floor. Rick had stood there, surprised. Carl moved habitually, searching for areas of the bar that may still be hiding more of the undead, but the two he had killed were the last. And for a second, Rick realized that he may not have to always keep a watchful eye on his son.
It barely took any time at all for Carl to adapt with the elongated barrel of the suppressor attachment, that Rick had decided and told him to hold on to it, use it only when they combed through houses and buildings. He accepted that without a word and Rick could tell by the small smile on his face that he was still reeling over how he had handled the run and taken down two enemies without the assistance of his father or the others. There was a sense of accomplishment in his eyes, as if he had proved something to himself.
Rick wiped the sweat off his brow, the sunlight making it hard to see in the distance. He could feel the temperatures changing, the humid heat gradually returning back where it rightfully belonged in Georgia. Spring was on the horizon and Rick was thankful for the prompt change of season. He could see the small buds of green growing back on the trees, the frost melting away in beads of water that fell from the trees.
Opening the trunk to the Chevy Suburban, Rick threw the duffel inside leaning his arm over the propped up door. He watched carefully as Hershel held the gas nozzle through the fuel door, filling the tank while the numbers on the gasoline pump leafed to high numbers that were extraneous. So much for gas prices becoming a growing problem for the economy. Rick thought about throwing a dollar bill in the gas station till for the gallons of gasoline they had taken, thinking of it being a good laugh that he needed.
"These pumps have little left in them," Hershel stated, draining the nozzle before setting it back in place aside the pump.
"Still got four full canisters if we need them," Rick replied. "Gas is not our priority."
Hershel wiped his hands against his khakis before gesturing toward the bar across the parking lot. "Any luck?"
Rick shook his head. "Packaged peanuts and a case of coke."
Hershel sighed. "I'm afraid we may have to put in more hours. We're runnin' low on food, Rick."
"I know." Rick leaned away from the tailgate and slammed it shut. He glanced around for a moment. "Elena and Daryl?"
"Not back yet," Carol answered, walking toward with her arms crossed.
Rick gazed at her for a moment before glancing at the watch wrapped to his wrist. It had been his father's watch passed down to him and Rick had held onto it for its sentimental value. He hoped it to become a memento that he could entrust to Carl one day.
Furrowing his brow, he reread the time to make certain he had read the hands of the clock as it were. It had long passed two hours since he last looked. It wasn't like Daryl to be late.
"Maybe they lost track of time," Glenn chimed in at the quizzical expression on their leader's face.
Rick shook his head at the implication. Daryl was productive of his time and normally didn't stray far from the estimated hour of how it would take him for one hunt. They had been on the road for a long time and never had Daryl taken longer than two hours, especially when Rick wasn't with him on the hike. The hunter knew how important it was to keep moving, and having the group wait around on the roads for his return wasn't ideal. They could spend a couple of hours loitering, any longer was practically welcoming danger to find them.
"It's not like Daryl to be late," Carol refuted with a positive lift to her chin.
"Yeah, but the way him and Elena went at it before they left…" Glenn trailed off and rubbed his hand over the back of his neck. "What was that about?"
"I don't think that's any of our business, do you?" Rick remarked.
Glenn's eyes widened slightly and his face immediately flushed. "Oh no totally—I didn't mean—I wasn't trying to be nosy—" Hershel slapped his hand over the young man's shoulder, silencing his ramble.
Rick sighed at that. He hadn't meant to make his remark sound as presumptuous as it did. Rick realized it was his own grief spilling out, provoked by the responsibility he felt for the argument that had transcended between Daryl and Elena before their departure. Deciding to have the talk with him then had been a bad idea. Daryl had a short fuse, Rick knew that. But the way he had reacted had been something Rick hadn't been at all prepared for. From what he had heard being exchanged not at all quietly between the couple, there was something there beneath their barking. Again, it wasn't at all any of his business, but Rick had to wonder. Was this a repercussion for the way he attacked Daryl at Pearson?
Pearson hadn't entered Rick's thoughts, not once since it happened. Not until Elena brought it up that morning, and it had him reflective of the way he had acted that night. It wasn't fair, not to Daryl at the way Rick had accused him, as if convicting him of fault that they had been swarmed by the herd and barely made it out. Rick had been just so angry, so riled up from his discussion with Lori that he needed something, anything to dwindle the fire that was burning inside him. Using Daryl as a punching bag hadn't been his proudest moment; neither was averting his rage onto Elena when she had stepped forward to defend him. There was a lot of mistakes Rick had made that night.
For a moment, his eyes wandered until they consciously settled on Lori whom was leaning her back against the side of the Hyundai, listening to something Beth and Maggie were saying while she stroked her swollen belly absently. Lori had that same forlorn frown on her lips that she had for weeks. She'd smiled sometimes but Rick knew how empty and fake they were. She was unhappy, he knew that, but a part of him accepted the fact that she had done it to herself.
Maybe he was being selfish and maybe what she had said to him back at Pearson wasn't entirely unreasonable, but Rick had no patience to hear whether his morality was affecting his family in a bad way. They were alive after all. They were safe. Rick was going to do everything in his power to have that baby born safely. If that meant challenging his wife when she imposed his decisions, then Rick had no other choice. The unresolved issues will be dealt with when that baby was born, which was inconveniently soon. Hershel had estimated the due date and seeing the growing roundness of her belly, that day was quickly coming.
Blinking, Rick focused his eyes back on Glenn who looked at him expectantly.
"I asked if we should do something," he restated.
Rick looked at his watch again, the second hand ticking. "Give 'em five. They could be on their way back now." Glenn complied, nodding his head before walking off toward T-Dog's direction and helping him with the empty contents on the cargo bed of the Dodge pickup. Shielding his eyes from the sun, Rick gazed toward the forest in the distance. Nothing stirred between the trees, but the faint breeze that shook the bare branches.
Elena tried to swallow but there was barely any saliva in her mouth to smoothen the starchiness of her throat. She panted heated breaths, the back of her neck wet with sweat and the muscles in her legs cramping with exertion.
She had to stop. Her lungs couldn't handle anymore. No amount of past training for cross country could keep her going.
Elena bent over with her hands on her knees, her lungs working overtime to regain the oxygen in her body.
Daryl continued a few paces before realizing her pause. He looked back at her and slowed, leaning his right arm against the bark of a tree. Short breaths were heaving through his opened mouth. Elena wiped the sweat that trickled down her brow, the back of her hand tainted with the smudged walker blood that had dampened her face. Their eyes locked then.
Moans of the emaciated dead grew louder behind them, the shuffling of their feet sounding like the chorus of a marching army. She didn't look over her shoulder but Elena's eyes widened, her heart pumping faster.
"C'mon," Daryl urged.
Straightening, Elena pushed herself forward and her thighs and calves burned in protest. Daryl ran alongside her, his movements handicapped with a slight limp. If he could continue running with a damaged body and a nearly useless arm, there was no reason that she couldn't continue. It was the survivalists in her that shouted and prodding within her head, forcing her to move faster, keep going, don't look back.
Daryl stumbled and dropped to his knee suddenly.
The heel of her boot slid against the wet mud when Elena ceased to an abrupt stop. She threw her hands out to break her fall but regained her balance at the last minute.
"Daryl," she murmured and reached for his side.
With a groan, Daryl struggled back on his feet and his grip tight on his left arm. He was exhaling through clenched teeth, each breath a sputter through pain and exhaustion. He met her eyes briefly and a light scoff escaped his lips.
"Quit lookin' at me like that." His expression softened and met her worried eyes again. "I'm alright."
She didn't believe him, not at all. She could see how the pain contorted his face; how his limping got worse the farther they went. They couldn't keep going, not like this. His focus was wavering and there was a slight slur to his speech. She was no doctor but Elena knew those were symptoms of a concussion. One slip and Daryl could lose consciousness again.
Elena ripped her Glock from her waistband and twisted around, her aim straight and her finger on the trigger.
"No!" Daryl grabbed her wrist. "Eight rounds ain't gonna do shit."
"I have the extra clip."
"You gonna pop 'em all in the head?"
Elena watched as the group of the undead staggered forward, their numbers greater with more cadavers that joined for the running buffet. She couldn't concentrate long enough to count how many there were, but with the extra magazine in her bag, sixteen bullets was enough to definitely make a dent.
If you don't miss.
Elena bit at her bottom lip and settled her eyes on Daryl. As good as her aim had gotten, she wasn't him and she wasn't Rick. She couldn't hit them all.
"Shit," Elena muttered in defeat. She dropped the gun.
"Move. Go." Daryl held tight her arm and pulled her with him.
She ran aimlessly beside him. Her legs were numb and working on auto polite now. Weight was being pushed against her side and it took Elena a second to realize it was Daryl leaning against her, his grip on her arm clenching for support rather than coaxing her forward. His hold on her was slipping, his palm clammy on her skin. Daryl jerked against her suddenly when his legs began to lose stamina. Elena stumbled and shot her eyes to him.
It was all in slow motion when Daryl began to lean forward, his fingers dislodging from her arm. All Elena could hear was her heart pounding blood to her brain and Daryl's harsh gasps beside her. He was falling, his eyes droopy, feet swaying beneath him. The moment he landed on the ground, Elena's legs gave out underneath her. She dropped to her knees, scrambling her way to Daryl's side.
He lay collapsed on his stomach, the side of his face planted against the cold dirt. His eyes were firmly shut and he was unresponsive.
"Shit. Shit." Elena managed to turn him over on his back, his body limp and dead weight. She took his face in her hands while her vision began to blur. Tears were welling up in her eyes as she patted her palm against his cheek that was wet with perspiration and dirt. "Daryl, please wake up. C'mon baby, open your eyes."
Her own voice was unrecognizable to her, heavy with fear and desperation. Her hands were trembling as she caressed the side of Daryl's face, her lips begging for him to wake up.
Elena shot wide eyes over her shoulder. They were becoming too loud, too close. The undead were sweeping in like a swarm.
Before she knew it, Elena was standing high on her heels, her Glock drawn out front of her.
Her eyes averted again.
The walker flinched as the bullet lodged into its shoulder. A frustrated growl crawled its way up Elena's throat and she lifted her aim.
A mist of blood spurted out the back of the walker's head, two holes ripped through the cadaver's face. It dropped to the floor. Elena continued without a second thought, her target on the corpses closest. Each shot assaulted her ears, her hearing replaced with a high pitch ringing. She no longer could hear the moans of the undead, couldn't hear how they hissed and snapped their teeth for the need of satisfying their dying hunger.
Click. Click. Click.
Distraught, Elena stared down at her Glock. The slide was pulled back from the barrel, the chamber empty.
Momentarily her eyes lifted to the bony figure of a woman a few paces away. Elena threw her backpack to the floor and ripped opened the side pocket. She clenched the full magazine in her hand. Her right thumb pulled back the slide release, the empty mag dropping to the floor with a thud. The new mag slid in with a jerk of her palm. Elena pulled back the slide, a new 9mm entering the chamber. She tightened her finger on the trigger.
But it didn't pull back. Mortified, Elena looked down at the slide that was halfway pulled back, the bullet jammed in the slot. Elena cussed under her breath, trying to force back the slide to clear the jam.
The walker was a few steps away.
"Shit. Shit. C'mon!"
Elena's breath hitched in her throat. She couldn't unjam it. She didn't know how. Decisively, she abandoned the pistol and reached for her crowbar. Pale fingers clawed toward her.
The dead woman's neck snapped back. Blood, tissue and bone spewing from the back of her head. Her legs buckled and she collapsed to the ground, lifeless.
Elena didn't know what happened. She was frozen in offense, her crowbar still raised in her fist. She didn't even hear the voices calling out behind her until her arm was pulled back and she wobbled on her step.
Rick was suddenly in front of her, his lips moving a mile a minute. She couldn't hear what he was saying, just the ringing that sung through her head. She watched his lips as they moved, forming words that Elena barely read.
"Are you alright?"
"What the hell happened?"
Elena pulled out of his grasp and dropped back to Daryl's side. He was still unconscious, the small cuts on his face running with tiny drops of blood. Hershel was there, kneeling beside her, asking questions. Nothing was registering.
"Elena, sweetheart, you need to take deep breaths. Can you do that for me?"
She nodded her head ruefully. The ringing was subsiding, replaced with few gunshots and the death moans of killed walkers. It became background noise while Elena inhaled slowly and exhaled.
Hershel gingerly placed his fingers against Daryl's neck, his farming hands gentle and attentive. A small sigh of relief left his lips and he lifted his deep blue eyes to hers. He didn't have to say a word because Elena had already found herself speaking.
"He hit his head. I think it's a concussion. We were running. He just passed out." The old man nodded his head patiently, holding on to her sentences as they broke off in gasps.
"Breathe," he told her.
Nodding her head quickly, Elena closed her eyes and leaned her hands against the cold dirt. Her lungs burned with every inhalation. Anxiety still shook her body.
"How is he?" she heard Rick's voice behind her.
"Stable, but I can't treat him here. After those gunshots, more will be comin'."
"T, help me get him up."
Elena felt a strong slap against her shoulder and she looked up. T-Dog sent her a small grin of reassurance.
"You okay, girlie?"
She gave him a short nod and he stepped around her, pulling up Daryl with Rick at his other side.
"Can you walk?" Rick asked.
Elena didn't answer him right away. Her legs felt weak underneath her. When Hershel lent out his hand, she didn't hesitate to take it. Alleviation settled within her and she allowed Hershel to help her on her feet and pull her with him as T-Dog and Rick dragged a senseless Daryl in their arms.
It was dark out, the cold wind whistling outside the windows, making the walls and roof above their heads crack and whine. Behind the curtains Elena could see the shadows of the trees dance with the breeze. She rubbed her arms, feeling the cold air seep within the cracks of the house. A wince had her eyes returning their attention back to where it had been.
She stood leaning, her back and head resting against the wall behind her. Her, Rick, Hershel and Carol were located in the kitchen of a small home they'd infiltrated and secured less than an hour ago. The others were settling themselves in the other room while four kept company a seemingly agitated Daryl.
He sat on a mahogany chair pulled from the round kitchen table while Hershel cleaned up and disinfected the dried blood on his face and neck. Carol sat next to him, her fingers interlaced on the table as she quietly talked to the veterinarian. Daryl had woken up on their drive to safer ground with a pounding headache that influenced his cranky attitude. So far he was being compliant, but Elena could see that he was bothered with them all being there, which was why she kept her distance and merely watched. Hershel was treating him and Carol stood by as his assisting nurse. Elena had no room to tend to him.
Rick clapped his hand on Hershel's shoulder before making his way over. Elena straightened herself and pulled her Glock from the back of her pants before handing it over to him. The pistol was still jammed and after Elena had explained everything in detail about what happened, Rick had asked her to lend him the handgun so he could eject the clogged bullet when he had time.
"Lucky we came when we did," Rick whispered to her and took the gun in his hands. With two jerks of his wrist, the bullet launched out of the chamber. He caught it.
"Lucky," Elena echoed.
She shrugged a shoulder. "I could be worse."
Furrowing his brow, Rick set aside her Glock on the island counter and leaned against the space of the wall beside her.
"What happened, what you're doin'—you can't blame yourself for it."
"Daryl ran in that cabin to pull me out." Elena met Rick's eyes and frowned. "He knew. If I hadn't walked in there…"
"Stop. It already happened. There isn't much more you can do." At her silence, he continued. "You pulled him out of there. He needed you and you were there for him."
A smile crept at the corner of her lips. "Y'know, he'll never admit that."
Rick exhaled and smiled in return. "No, I s'pose he won't." He met her eyes again, studying. "Are you two okay?"
There was concern in his voice, something that Elena found somewhat surprising. But she smiled warmly nonetheless.
"Daryl and I, we're the last thing you need to worry about."
Rick's blue grey eyes flashed. His expression grew conflicted as he considered what she said.
His relationship with Lori had everything to do with her sentence. Elena didn't try to throw subtlety in it. That was his problem he needed to face, and Daryl was hers. She was already worried about where their relationship was going after their huge fight, having Rick worry with her wasn't necessary. Maybe this was something she could talk with Rick about, but Elena found she didn't want to. Not anymore.
It was a mistake to talk him into speaking with Daryl. Elena should have faced that demon head on herself. No matter how many times he had ignored her, she should have tried harder. Maybe if she had, all this could have been avoided.
Daryl wasn't in critical condition, in fact he was tapping his heel against the floor mirthlessly while he waited for Hershel to clean and disinfect his cuts. Still, he was the very image of where Elena's anger had gotten them.
After a moment, Elena looked back toward Rick. "How'd you guys know?" she asked and gestured her chin toward their annoyed patient.
"The two of you took over two hours to come back. Hershel and I made the decision find you, make sure everythin' was alright. T-Dog volunteered to come along. Then we heard the gunshots." Rick sighed. "That was a brave thing you did, protecting him like that."
Elena snorted in spite of herself, almost laughed. "My gun jammed. And I'm the one that put him in that situation in the first place."
She could feel Rick's calculating eyes on her. The responsibility of it all was weighing on her, the grief spilling out before she realized. She didn't want to talk about it, but there she was confessing how at fault she felt.
"I shouldn't have asked you to talk to him, Rick. That was my fault."
"You go that far puttin' the blame on yourself, where does it stop?"
Elena shot her eyes back to him. He held her gaze steadily, his eyes wise and thoughtful. He was right. She could go as far as she wanted, believe that every choice she made led up to this point. Or she could return thinking that she no longer had control of her future anymore. Both mindsets were foolish. She knew it when she was still with Toni and Amelia and she knew it now.
"Apologize to him if you need to," Rick continued, "but takin' responsibility over these circumstances doesn't help either of you."
His words struck her with a different realization that Elena knew she wouldn't have discovered on her own. She suddenly felt like she was back stranded on that interstate, Toni telling her why they needed to keep going, why there was no reason to go back home where it perished in the fire. Why leaving everything behind was their only salvation.
Returning her eyes to Daryl, Elena caught his gaze. His blue eyes bore into hers with an intensity that she didn't quite grasp.
What am I to you, Daryl?
Rick's hand rested against her shoulder. "We've got things covered here, Elena. Why don't you go get somethin' to eat? We'll figure out who'll keep watch. You and Daryl take the rest of the night off and get some rest. Alright?"
In response, she nodded her head quietly, her brain already delving in the recesses of her mind, thinking over everything he had said to her and then some.
"Thank you," Elena whispered to him and left his grasp. She held Daryl's stare until she walked passed him, giving Carol a short smile of gratitude for taking care of him now.
She left the room with the shadow of second thoughts behind her.
A haggard man stared back at him, brown hair ruffled, dark circles under glazed over blue eyes, small lacerations disfiguring a sullen face. The reflection in the mirror was barely someone he recognized.
Daryl leaned his eyes into the mirror, examining the ugly yellow blemish forming on the shoulder of his once dislocated arm. The limb still pulsed with pain, but Daryl took each spasm with a clench of his jaw. It wasn't his shoulder that hurt him most, or the bruises that littered his entire back. It was the throbbing in his head like someone was pounding it with a blunt object over and over and over again.
There was little he could tolerate. Sitting in the kitchen when Hershel and Carol were tending to him, all he wanted to do was tell them to shut the hell up. Even the smallest sounds of their voices made the headaches worse. He needed to get some distance, needed to have some space to himself where he didn't feel like he was being suffocated by nurturing individuals. Carol was nagging at him to lie down, Hershel agreeing with her and telling him he needed to eat before taking the painkillers he prescribed, Rick nearly ordering him to take it easy for the rest of the night. And the one person he'd expected above all else to pester him over his fresh wounds and semi weak stature, left the room and said not one word.
The memory of what happened sat in the fogginess of his brain. There were snippets he could reiterate, but a lot was blacked out, left to his imagination. He remembered running, remembered the strain that made his body feel like a huge load on his already sore legs, remembered how his conscious swayed and spun making him want to heave and vomit. He remembered pulling someone along with him, away from the danger until suddenly they became a weight of support that was the only thing keeping him on his feet. Everything became blurred shapes in front of his eyes and then the ringing in his ears became just muffled noise before the world collapsed around him and all he saw was black.
After that he didn't remember anything else. He opened his eyes an hour or so later from the backseat of a moving pickup, something slowly brushing and stroking his hair. The back of his neck was curved and leaned against something firm, his head supported against something warm. It took him a while to really understand his surroundings and to get a grip on reality. After a moment the realization came to him. His head was rested against someone's lap and the touch that smoothened his hair were long feminine fingers. The comfort of it had him closing his eyes again, relishing in the unadulterated care of the gentle fingers caressing his scalp and massaging the delay of the pounding migraine that was resurfacing. He couldn't remember a time he allowed himself to be encompassed in the solace of someone's caring touch. Had he ever? Not in his past, he knew that for sure.
A part of him wondered if he had imagined it because the next thing he knew, he was being helped into a kitchen of a scant house and Hershel and Carol were the ones tending to his weakened condition. In his exhausted and frail state, Daryl had little will to argue that those gentle hands was what he wanted and needed more, real or not.
Now, he stood topless in front of a long mirror, retreated in the small enclosure of the ground floor washroom, the picture of a victim that looked like he had hell beat the crap out of him. He looked like shit. Felt like it too.
When a knock rapped at the closed door behind him, Daryl exhaled a long aggravated breath. He didn't answer it, just continued to watch the slow change of his expression. He figured it was Carol. She'd been keeping a watchful eye on him since he'd woken up, worried about his concussion and leaving him alone for a few minutes.
The voice on the other side of the door had the angered lines on his face smoothed away, his gaze flickering with something he couldn't quite recognize. All he could think of was the look of sad hazel eyes that watched him from a distance when he was stuck in the kitchen. She hadn't said much to him since he'd woken up. Hadn't said a damn word. Until now.
The sound of the knob twisting had him lowering his eyes to his denim shirt sprawled over the counter. He thought about throwing it back on quickly before she opened the door then realized he didn't have the capacity to struggle his burning body into the wrinkles of the denim. It wasn't like Elena hadn't seen him indecent before anyway and the scars on his body was an open sore they were both very much aware of.
Daryl lifted his eyes as soon as he heard the whine of the door hinges. He stared at her revealed reflection. Elena stood behind him, her shoulder leant against the door frame, her hair loosened from the usual tight braid, leaving the tresses kinky and framing her heart shaped face. She wasn't wearing that zip up bulky hoodie she always had, instead fashioning a pale grey tank top that hugged tight her torso and ended barely an inch away from the waistband of her faded blue jeans. Daryl didn't normally see her in fitted clothes because of the winter, but now his eyes traced the skin of her arms that were much more defined and toned and the slope of her small waist that widened with the curve of her hips. It had been a while since Daryl really looked at her as a woman.
Elena took a step forward in the room and he could see her eyes drinking in the sight of his mangled back. Daryl turned to face her, carefully leaning against the edge of the sink when something in her fist caught his attention. She followed his gaze.
"I brought you medicine." A small smile touched her lips and she lifted her fingers curled tight around the neck of a full bottle of vodka. When he gave her a questioning look, she shrugged. "Stole it from T's stash he took from that bar."
Daryl took the drink in his hand. Vodka had never been his favourite. It always hit him hard and before he knew it he was drunk faster than several shots of whiskey. Not as bad as moonshine, but pretty damn close. At the moment though, any alcohol was potent enough to numb away the ache in both his muscles and head. He gnashed his teeth around the lid to untighten it before spitting it into the sink. The burning down his throat warmed throughout his entire body and Daryl exhaled with contentment.
Elena shook her head when he offered the bottle to her. "Vodka makes me sick."
He took another swig, his stomach constricting with protest. He had no food in him and he knew that the alcohol was going to go straight to his head. A large part of him didn't give a shit. All he wanted was something to knock him out for the duration of the night. Painkillers never did that for him.
Taking a seat on the closed lid of the toilet to his left, Elena watched him, her eyes returning to that dull look of sadness. Daryl swallowed before resting the bottle on the counter. She was studying him, the movement of her pupils switching to each cut on his face before lowering and settling on the bruise of his shoulder. Her teeth chewed on her bottom lip and then she was looking passed him.
"I'm so sorry. I was so stupid." A dark note entered her voice as she continued to stare at the wall over Daryl's shoulder. "Going into that shit hole…I was just so mad at you." Elena met his eyes and lifted her hand in silent frustration before resting her knuckles against her lips. "I never wanted this."
Daryl sighed at her grief. He was thoughtful for a minute, thinking over the things she'd said to him before everything went downhill from there. "Did'ya mean it?" he finally asked her.
Conflict glinted over her eyes and she stared at him for a long time without saying anything. He could see the internal struggle she was having, a fight between being completely honest and dulling down the truth for his sake.
"I…" Elena broke off. She brushed a strand of hair that fell over her right eye and pinned it behind her ear. "I'm not use to this, Daryl—this not knowing. I'm not looking for a whole declaration of your feelings, I just need to know. I'm whatever you want me to be. I just want to know what that is. Whatever that is."
Daryl nodded his head slowly as he listened to her while reaching for the bottle again. He didn't blame her for wanting confirmation, that wasn't the reason the heat of aggravation was returning. It was the memory of what she said to him, that one accusation that settled in the back of his mind and was the core of his bottled up anger.
Am I just some girl you fool around with when you're not hunting or killing dead people?
He drank, the alcohol giving him that blind courage to voice exactly what he wanted to say to her after everything she'd said to him.
He looked at her with cold eyes and gestured to the tip of the bottle toward her. "So that whatcha think a me?" Elena's lips parted, her expression slightly riddled. "Jus' a guy that uses you like some bitch ta get laid when I ain't protectin' the group?"
Recognition of her words being thrown back at her flashed over her eyes. "Daryl—"
"No." He set the bottle back down hard and threw his finger pointedly at her. "You don' get it." Daryl shook his head. "Girlfriend? Lover?" he mockingly tossed back. "You ain't something that need ta be labelled. None a that shit even matters! My mom was my dad's ol' lady and he treated her like shit! Hell, Rick and Lori are married an' look at 'em!"
Elena straightened when he got into her face, her eyes wide. Daryl sobered for a moment, his temples pounding from the shout of his own voice. He turned away from her for a second, restraining back the alcohol that was raising the hot temperature of his body and ran his hand over his face.
"That whatcha want, right? Honesty?" He looked back at her. "I ain't ever had someone give a shit 'bout me."
"Carol does…," she offered lamely.
"I ain't talkin' 'bout her!" Daryl inhaled, regretting having heightened his voice again. His head was hurting like a bitch. "I ain't ever been 'fraid a nothin'. Then you got in my way."
She was standing now, her fingers fidgeting with the dog tags around her neck.
"Thought you was stupid for talkin' to Rick…walkin' in that cabin for shit we ain't ever gonna find. Thought you was stupid for stayin' when I told ya to run. Wanna know what I'm afraid of?" Elena gave a slight nod, but Daryl wasn't looking for it.
He didn't need a girlfriend or a wife. He needed her. Daryl was afraid that if he admitted that out loud, to not just her but to the entire group as well, then everything would come crashing down. He'd been convinced he'd save Merle from that roof, he'd promised Carol he'd find Sofia alive, he'd told Rick that they had time to leave Pearson before the riot of the undead was even close.
Nothing ever went the way he wanted, but goddamnit did he want this to be true.
"I'm afraid of you endin' up like Merle…jus' gone."
Daryl slightly swayed on his feet when her arms were suddenly around him, wrapping his numb body into a tight embrace. Her familiar warm touch enveloped him again and Daryl closed his eyes. His head felt heavy on his shoulders and he found himself burying his face against her neck. He needed to feel her like this tight against him, just for some reassurance, he wasn't really sure. Maybe the alcohol was making him think some dumb shit, like Elena wasn't really there at all, just a figment of his imagination of what he really wanted.
For the hundredth time that day, Elena was holding him up and he was leaning against her support without feeling any ounce of pride rejecting the help. He needed it, needed to know that she was there for him. Her arms tightened around him and it took everything within Daryl's power to not let the pain of her hold ruin this.
If he could go back to that cabin, just before the floor gave out, he'd choose that fall every time. Elena meant more to him than some dumbass label. She meant taking every injury so that she was safe. Any apology she gave him wasn't needed. He wasn't sorry.
Daryl needed her. No amount of danger would ever change that.